We’ve been meaning to do a post about the brewery, but even with three of us holding down our full-time gigs AND trying to start a new business, it’s amazing how quickly time gets away from you. The idea was to document our journey in a blog-type format, in part to keep a journal of sorts so that we can look back in several years’ time and laugh over pints at the struggle, the nonsense, red tape, jumping hoops and a lot of learning on the fly. The other reason was to give up-and-coming would-be breweries a glimpse of how we got started and help them avoid some of the issues and pitfalls we encountered, and possibly give them a bit of an advantage. After all, this is the beer business, and if you can’t help your fellow sisters and brothers, well then, maybe find another industry to be a part of.
Like most stories, this one should start at the beginning, but this isn’t most stories, so for now let’s just start in the middle, as it were.
There are different streams running right now, all flowing towards one big river.
The first is accounts/licencees and the challenge of finding new ones, keeping existing ones happy, and trying not to get frustrated with a system that exists where carrying macro, foreign-owned beer is considered much better for the bottom line than to have a locally produced, top selling beer on tap. But let’s leave that for another rant.
The second is the crazy amount of paperwork and detail involved. If it’s not the AGCO, it’s CRA, it’s the City of Ottawa, it’s engineers, landlords, architects, equipment suppliers, vendors…it doesn’t end, and in fact, it will get worse before it gets better. So you need to make sure you and/or your partners have someone who not only enjoys doing this, but has the eye for details. One small miss on something could cause delays, and delays eventually cost you money. In our case, we seem to be on track for an opening day sometime in late May despite the slow start out of the gate in January.
Thirdly is money. Pick any local brewery and they will all echo the same mantra – whatever you budget for, you might as well double it! Quite simply, building a brewery is expensive. That is not to say you can’t budget wisely. In fact, there are areas where you’re going to want to spend a bit more, and areas where perhaps you can scale back or defer to a later date. Better still if you are handy, love DIY, or know people in the trades that will work for beer! But those are few and far, and you still need to keep things above board if you want your permits and licences in place so that you can be in a position to actually SELL BEER.
So let’s give you an update of where we are at in our process. First, we got our building permits from the City of Ottawa. It wasn’t more than five minutes that we had that paper in our hand that we (well, our general contractor, who by the way is such a key piece to the rest of us keeping our sanity and current day jobs intact!) started to schedule concrete cutters, mechanical/electrical/structural/plumbing folk. With all of that lined up, it allows us to get the actual brewery space ready to receive the equipment.
Equipment. In the beginning, we were pretty steadfast that the brewhouse and associated tanks be Canadian-made. Now, go back about two paragraphs and re-read the part about money. We decided to go the Chinese-made route for the stainless steel stuff. To be honest, we weren’t keen on it and did a lot of research until we spoke with Mario from BreweryTrader.ca. Mario owns a brewery local to us, has been a great friend and resource, and has provided equipment for several other local breweries, including his own upgraded system. He assured us that quality would be on par and personally guaranteed that he would take care of any deficiencies. Furthermore, the guy is a brewer, understands what works and what doesn’t from his years of experience, and to us that intangible was too good to pass up. Well, that and saving almost $100K seems like a no-brainer. So happy to say that everything has been packaged and currently on a cargo ship, making it’s way across the ocean to the Port of Vancouver, where it will be unloaded off the ship and loaded on a rail car. The journey will continue across our wonderful country all the way to Montréal, where it will once again be unloaded and trucked to it’s final destination – Stray Dog Brewing Co in Orléans!
There is your update for now. It’s an exciting time for the three of us as we can almost see the finish line (or start line, depending on the race you are running). We continue to attend events to help get the word out and share This One, our California Common beer with craft beer lovers. A few new beers are being fermented and tested so when we finally open the doors, they will be exclusively available at our retail shop and debuted at the Orléans Craft Beer Festival in June.